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Stephen Hawking: From Pink Floyd to American sitcoms, a scientist's life in popular culture

Stephen Hawking: From Pink Floyd to American sitcoms, a scientist's life in popular culture
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Stephen Hawking’s life and work as a physicist transcended the scientific community into popular culture.

The story of his life was first adapted as a BBC feature-length drama in 2004, where Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a young Hawking working on his steady-state theory at Cambridge and the immediate aftermath of his diagnosis with ALS, a motor neurone disease.

The physicist’s life was taken to the big screen in James Marsh’s 2014 film The Theory of Everything, for which Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking, received an Academy Award for best actor.

“This Oscar belong to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family,” said an excited Redmayne in his acceptance speech.

Although these two Oscar-nominated actors brought Hawking life’s work to a mass audience, the scientist will also be remembered for playing himself in some of America’s most popular TV sitcoms.

Hawking voiced himself three times in the Simpsons — the first one being in 1999 for the episode They Saved Lisa’s Brain.

Matt Selman, Simpsons' executive producer, called Hawking "the most intelligent guest star in the brief history" of the show. In the episode Selman refers to in his tweet, Hawking says to Homer "Your theory of a doughnut-shaped universe is intriguing Homer, I may have to steal it."

His several appearances in the famous cartoon show earned him an official plastic figurine.

The acclaimed physicist also played himself in Chuck Lorre's popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in which he reviewed Sheldon's (Jim Parson) paper on the Higgs boson — a particle in the Standard Model of particle physics.

Hawking’s also made a cameo in a 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where he played poker with Einstein and Newton.

The physicist’s stardom was not limited to TV and film but expanded to music. Pink Floyd featured his voice on their 1994 track Keep Talking.

Hawking’s ease at explaining complex ideas on advances physics to a wider audience and his life-long fight against ALS made him a popular figure beyond the scientific world and will be remembered by his cameos in American sitcoms as someone who did remarkable things despite his debilitating disease.

Because after all, “life would be tragic if it weren't funny,” as Hawking once said.

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